Malaise has officially sent in and it's all Laura Lee Guhrke's fault.
Ever read a book that you know you should like but for some reason it leaves you feeling sort of eh. That was my reaction to The Painted Rose by Donna Birdsell. It's a strong debut novel, and it really is a good read. I would have no problem recommending it to library patrons. Honest. For some reason though I had sort of a mixed reaction to it. Let's see if I can iron it out.
Lady Sarah Essington has not left her family home since she suffered from a tragic accident 8 years earlier. She now wanders the estate wearing veils, never allowing anyone to see her scarred face, and tends her gardens obsessively. Well now she's decided she wants to learn to paint, and her doting older brother secures a tutor whose work Sarah has long admired.
Lucien Delacourte is a French artist running away from his problems. The death of his wife and young daughter continue to haunt him to the point that he can no longer paint. Desperate to escape France (and his creditors) he reluctantly takes the job of tutoring Sarah.
OK, what I liked. First, I love it when the author shows her characters becoming friends before lovers. Sarah and Lucien immediately hit it off, but develop a friendship first. I also tend to be a "wounded" character junkie, so having 2 wounded main characters in the same book was really great.
OK, what left me feeling eh. The nondescript time period. This story supposedly takes place in the late 1770s but outside of mentioning the fad of towering powdered wigs I never got a sense of the time period.
Also, I'm admittedly not a huge fan of family members as villains. The conflict here is provided by Sarah's bored sister-in-law who wants to bed Lucien in the worst way. There's also some tacked on conflict involving someone trying to kill Sarah that just felt like too much. Honestly, the sister-in-law (who receives a great comeuppance in the end) and her secretive older brother are enough conflict. The whole "someone is out to kill Sarah" thing just gives the final 75 pages or so a TV Movie Of The Week feel.
Still, I should have liked this book a lot more. It was a quick read and this is really a very good debut. It just suffers because of my current lack of enthusiasm for historical romance. The only two historicals that truly moved me this year were Prairie Wife by Cheryl St. John and To Dream Again by Laura Lee Guhrke (the latter published in 1995!)
Anyone else having this problem? Or am I just inventing "issues" again? And can anyone out there recommend a really moving historical romance? Bonus points for western/American settings.